The hunt for a new batch of Singapore Hawker Masters began yesterday with the humble mee rebus.
A simple dish of thick yellow noodles with tofu cubes, green chilli and a hard-boiled egg drenched in a flavourful spicy-sour gravy, it is one of six new hawker food categories in this year's search for Singapore's top hawkers.
The annual awards, jointly organised by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, are now into their fourth year.
Over the next few weeks, judges will sample dishes in five other categories - the dry and soup versions of fishball noodles; cheng tng, a sweet dessert soup; rojak, a prawn paste salad; or luak, or fried oyster omelette; and nasi briyani, a fragrant rice dish usually accompanied by fork-tender mutton or chicken.
Other categories over the years have included bak kut teh, a pork rib tea soup; and chicken rice.
Judges will head to the top three stalls in each food category before deciding on the winners.
The awards aim to give deserving hawkers recognition to spur them on to maintain and improve food standards. They will be presented at The Asian Masters gala dinner at Ocean Gallery, Resorts World Sentosa, on Nov 22.
This year's judges include Professor Tommy Koh, ambassador- at-large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr Dennis Wee, chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Group; The Straits Times' food editor Tan Hsueh Yun, and food critic and executive sub-editor Wong Ah Yoke; Lianhe Zaobao zbNOW food correspondent Marcus Yeo; and food consultant and restaurateur Violet Oon. They were also on last year's panel.
New judges this year include Mr Steven Yeong, chief operating officer and director of restaurant chain River Inn Group; and associate editor of Lianhe Zaobao's zbNOW and ZbBz Glenn Low.
In the mee rebus category, for example, judges said they were looking for gravy that is smooth, with a good balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavours.
Mr Yeong, 60, said: "The gravy must be flavourful, but not too starchy or too sweet."
At one of the mee rebus stalls visited yesterday, a constant queue of diners could be seen waiting in line for servings of the dish.
Of the three mee rebus sampled yesterday, The Straits Times' Mr Wong, 52, said: "The second stall stood out the most. The gravy was not conventional - it is usually thicker. Here, the gravy was also not overpoweringly starchy and the small dried shrimp in it provided flavour and gave the dish a protein taste."
The finalists in each category were determined by public nominations over a four-week period in August. More than 800 stalls were nominated. The top three in each category, as well as three more stalls nominated by judges, were then open to public voting over four weeks last month. More than 2,000 votes were cast.
Mr Danny Yeo, assistant vice-president of branding and promotions for Singapore Press Holdings, said it is important to give hawkers due recognition.
"Through the awards, we also hope to send a message to the young that being a hawker is a noble profession," he added.